• Frank Connelly

48 Hour Film Project: A Triathlon for Creatives

Updated: Dec 6, 2020

Words by Frank Connelly. Images courtesy of Jeanette Rainey (inc. feature image) and Anna Tozzi Barbay.



The Hampton Roads 48 Hour Film Project is celebrating its 20th anniversary and is scheduled for July 31 through August 2, 2020. To understand perspectives on the 48 Hour Film Project, I interviewed Jeannette Rainey, the City Producer for the Project, and Anna Tozzi Barbay, an award winning creative for the project.

The 48 Hour Film Project started around a kitchen table in Washington DC by Mark Ruppert, his sister and sister-in-law, and wanted to encourage film makers to make more film. Ruppert wanted to encourage local creatives to make indie films so that their voice could be heard. Big Studios drown out the independent voices and it was recognized that there was a strong need to encourage independent film. They decided that a good way to encourage indie filmmaking was by setting a deadline. Jeannette Rainey relates that the 48 Film Project was Rupert’s “brain child and his work of art. Each year is different, the films are like buddhist sand castles that go away until the next year. It is like improv for filmmakers.”


The very first year of the Project there were 10 teams. They came up with general parameters of having a character, 3 elements, props and a line of dialogue. Nick Rupert was an indie filmmaker. Rupert asked how can a film be made two days? That question was answered by setting parameters and a time frame- the films are to be 5 to 7 minutes in length.

“Been there, done that, got the t-shirt” Photo courtesy of Jeanette Rainey.

Word of mouth caught on without the social media that we have today. Now with Covid-19, there is a need to do it all virtually around the world. Rainey mentioned “That’s requiring a big server than can handle large electronic files”.


Jeannette Rainey succeeded Keith Flippen as City Producer. Tom White was the first City Producer. Keith was City Producer for 5 to 6 years. Jeanette is working on her sixth year.


In 2011 Jeannette saw JPIXX/In Captivity at the Naro Theatre in Norfolk and it stuck with her. It won the Grand Champion at Filmapalooza. Hampton Roads holds the honor of having the last Grand Champion from North America. Keith Flippen wanted to move on as City Producer and Jeannette did not want the community to lose the 48 Hour film Project, so she stepped up and took on the role. It has resulted in strong collaboration between local theatres such as Generic and PUSH Comedy Theatre. One year, PUSH had four teams. Rainey offered that “The more we do the stronger we get as artists.”


Ann Tozzi Barbay is a very talented creative who has won awards for her involvement with the 48 Hour Film Project and has been involved for over six years. Her first three years she wrote play scripts with Ernie and Heather Smith. She then participated in all roles of the creative process with Skelly Films and 2 other teams.

Anna Tozzi Barbay and Heather Smith with their award. Photo courtesy of Anna Tozzi Barbay.

For Anna Tozzi Barbay editing is the most difficult aspect of the 48 Hour Film Project. Writers write into the night. Sometimes scripts are finished by 10 PM or it can be 5 or 6 AM. “If you are on the team, you may get a call from the writer at midnight.” The phone call would let the actors know whether they are in the film, what character they will play and what to bring with them. After the script is received the Director tries to figure out how to shoot the film. Actors show up in the morning and shoot all day Saturday. Some films may continue into Sunday, but it would cause difficulties for the editors. Editors patch it altogether. “They have to make sure the sound is good, everything looks right, rendered, downloaded and then getting it to the dropoff location.”


Barbay’s proudest achievement was her second project with Skelly films in 2014 when she wrote Plural. It is a film about a woman with three husbands. The mockumentary won Anna best writing award in 2014 along with another female writer. The film also won the audience favorite award. “It was quite a fun experience,” according to Barbay. The comedy had Joel David King as a reporter who investigates a woman in a plural marriage.

The process for the 48 Hour can be marked as before COVID-19 and after. Before COVID-19 there was the Friday evening 7:30 PM kickoff. Each team would draw one or two Genres, Character Name, dialogue, prop and career field. There can be 20 Genres in total. All Films were separated into two Groups and screened at the Naro Theatre. Group A Films are shown on Tuesday, and Group B films are shown on a Thursday. Top 10 are chosen to be screened as “Top Dog” on Saturday and awards are given out then. Each film has to be 7 minutes long not including credits, and has to be completed and placed into the hands of the Area Producer within 48 hours or you are disqualified. You can be disqualified for not getting in on time, the film being too long, or not using all of the elements. All of the films (even those which are disqualified) can place under Audience favorites. Audience votes by ballot at the event- you can pick 3.

The audience during a past screening. Photo courtesy of Jeanette Rainey.

Now with COVID-19, Rainey has declared that “this year, it is virtual [because she] does not want to risk people’s health”. She is advocating use of smaller casts. She wants the focus on the story, less is more, and to always wear masks. The Event is going to be one big Zoom meeting. Kick off will be with Team Leaders. Team Leaders will press a button, a wheel will turn on a website and will randomly choose their genre. Before 7 PM team leaders will get their elements. “At least they will not have to commute back to their writing space, this reduces their driving time.” They will upload their films to 48 Hour Cinema .com. The website was a major feat for Headquarters to create. Screeners will have to be online. “When we can all get together in person then the hope is to air the films that competed in the global film challenge and the 48 Hour film project”. She is thinking that maybe the wrap up party could be in a parking lot.


Jeannette Rainey as the City Producer thinks of her role as like a Stage Manager for the Project. The Project involves 130 cities around the world. Each city has a City Producer. Rainey loves the comradery of everyone involved in the project and she loves going to Filmapalooza every year. It is the grand finale to see all of the films. The 48 Hour Film Project “is the epitome of inclusion of different languages, skin color, everyone has the passion for storytelling and filmmaking. City Producers can’t make a film and be in it but we support and celebrate their local film makers. We believe that everyone who participates has a story.”

Anna’s daughter Francesca during their 48 Hour Stuck @ Home Project. Photo courtesy of Anna Tozzi Barbay.

Rainey’s vision for the 48 Hour Film Project “is like being a master gardener germinating global growth of film project flowers. It is the largest Short film library in the world. There are more than 8,000 films created over the last twenty years. It is now really the art of not messing it up.” Vision can really be articulated as collaboration and celebration. “There is competition but Hampton Roads is known for their encouragement and support between film makers. It is a group triathlon for creatives. Each team is really just competing with themselves and not with the other filmmakers. As a result, film makers obtain a mad respect for each other. They routinely work with each other outside of the 48 hour film project. They get to know each other’s products such as Drones, film shots, sound etc. 48 Hour Film Project strengthens local filmmakers’ skills, especially when large studios come into the area looking for skilled film technicians.”


The Greatest Challenge for Rainey is getting the rhythm and flow as a producer standpoint. It is so complicated that it requires good organization. “It is logistics, scheduling and coordination; such as scheduling the theatre and making sure that team leaders have all the documentation they need. Also, making sure that the screeners have the correct slate for each film. The film community is very encouraging and forgiving when mistakes occur. However, it takes courage to play the 48 Hour Film Project.”

Anna during their 48 Hour Stuck @ Home Project. Photo courtesy of Anna Tozzi Barbay.

Rainey would “Love to see a rain forest of local film makers. I want to cultivate our local crop from seedlings, they come back next year and it’s a bigger plant. As humans, we are in a constant state of becoming all of our lives. The 48 Hour Film project is a microcosm of that idea. It is a setting that helps you to succeed and grow.”

Some noteworthy participants include Local Actors such Joel King, who played George Washington in Legend and Lies and Candy Dennis who was in Sixth Sense. Other noteworthy actors include Martin Freeman and J K Simmons.


If you would like to view more information on the 48 Hour Film project go to their website.

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